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Drug-related violence escalates in Mexico despite removal of cartel leaders

December 30, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Drug-related violence escalates in Mexico despite removal of cartel leaders

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Attempts to combat cartel-related violence in Mexico started off with a bang this year, with infamous drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman being extradited to the U.S. to face charges in Brooklyn Federal Court.

However, despite the fanfare over the extradition, violence has escalated in Mexico and this year will be the country’s bloodiest yet.

It’s not clear how many of the over 30,000 homicides reported this year are related to drug cartels, but the violence has experts worried that the country’s “decapitation” strategy of taking out cartel leaders to put an end to violent criminal networks is failing.

According to a report from the Congressional Research Service that was published in November, 107 of Mexico’s 122 most infamous drug lords had been sent to the U.S. along with “El Chapo,” including Guzman’s recently extradited lieutenant Victor Manuel Felix-Felix, Texas-born Beltran-Leyva capo  Edgar Valdez Villarreal aka “La Barbie,” Rodrigo Arechiga-Gamboa, also known as ‘El Chino’ Anthrax, and former Gulf Cartel Boss Mario Ramirez-Trevino.

However, despite the extraditions and successful prosecutions of high-level cartel operatives—  the level of violence in Mexico still increased.

“El Chapo” Guzman after his arrest in January 2016

This implies that the cartel leaders may not be as critical to operations as the government thought and clearly indicates taking out those leaders won’t suppress the violence.

“Organizations fragmented but did not disappear and experienced deadly combat until a new leader replaced the former resulting in new groups emerging,” the CRS stated.

Hitting cartel leadership can interrupt the drug supply chain into the U.S., but the data shows it only generates a void for competitors to try to take control of supply territories, according to Jeronimo Cortina, a professor in the University of Houston’s political science department and its Center for Mexican American Studies.

“Once you take the CEO out, it does not mean the company is going down,” Cortina stated. “Some cartels see that as an opportunity to launch a  ‘hostile takeover.’”

“The decapitation strategy has resulted in an increasingly fragmented underworld,” according to Alejandro Hope, a security analyst who was part of Mexico’s Civilian Intelligence Agency.

Edger Valdez Villareal aka La Barbie, a native of Laredo, Texas was arrested in Mexico back in 2010 and extradited to the U.S. back in 2015

Not all of the smaller groups may be focused on the drug trafficking typically managed by the cartels, Hope added. Instead, some have created a business out of extortion, abductions, and fuel theft.

The CRS report added that specific factors could be pushing this spike in violence, “including the decline and fragmentation of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Los Zetas coupled with the rapid rise of the abhorrently violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Other underlying factors causing the increased violence include the competition to meet the growing U.S. heroin demand and Mexico’s ineffective law enforcement efforts against” drug cartels.

“Smaller gangs tend to be less organized and cannot challenge Mexican police or corrupt segments of the government,” Hope continued.

“But they are more violent than their predecessors,” he added.

Victor Manuel Felix-Felix, a prominent deputy of Mexican Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ was extradited to the US last week

Fragmentation and lack of investment in Mexico’s security sector over the past couple of years may have produced a “perfect storm” for the violence.

The DEA’s 2017 drug assessment noted that, unlike their counterparts in Mexico, criminals in the U.S. “strive to maintain low visibility and refrain from inter-cartel violence to avoid law enforcement detection.”

“Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO) acts of violence do occur in parts of the U.S., particularly along the [southwestern border]; however, they are less frequent and associated with trafficker-on-trafficker incidents,” the report added.

Mexico is taking measures to deal with the dramatic surge in violence, and crime is expected to be a principal topic in Mexico’s presidential election in 2018.

One source of hope is the passage of Mexico’s new interior security law, which was approved this month, which outlines rules under which armed forces have the authority to fight organized crime through effective law enforcement action, such as carrying out raids and establishing checkpoints.

However, due to mounting critics voicing concerns that the law could lead to the likelihood of human rights abuses — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said he would send the bill to the Supreme Court for review and maintained the legislation wouldn’t be implemented until the court ruled on its constitutionality.

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